Additional State Efforts To Support the Mental Health of Young People in Serbia

Six ministries sign a Memorandum of Understanding

16 October 2023
shubuckl mh konferencija 2023
UNICEF Serbia/2023/Shubuckl

Belgrade, 16 October 2023 - Today, at the second International Conference focusing on the mental health and psychosocial support of young people - 'Don't Leave Us For Later' - six ministries signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The goal is to enhance the mental health support system for children and young people in Serbia. This Memorandum clarifies the allocation of resources and the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders in child, adolescent, and young people's mental health protection. The signing parties include the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Tourism and Youth, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, as well as the Ministry of Family Care and Demography of the Republic of Serbia.

Deyana Kostadinova, UNICEF Representative in Serbia, stressed that every child has the right to good mental health and well-being. This is especially important in light of the findings from the 'U-Report' survey conducted in August of this year, which revealed that approximately 47 percent of respondents noted that young people refrain from seeking help because they fear it may be perceived as a sign of weakness, and they are concerned about being judged. The survey further indicated that nearly half of the young people surveyed, or 46 percent of them, turn to social media and the Internet as their primary source of information on how to maintain good mental health. Only five percent of them consider teachers, and seven percent consider health workers as individuals they can confide in regarding their problems.

“In a strong show of unity, six key ministries have come together to sign the Memorandum of Understanding, reinforcing their dedication to enhancing the emotional well-being of children, adolescents, and youth in Serbia. This collective commitment is more than just an agreement; it's an investment in our future – a recognition that investing in individual mental health is an investment in our community's resilience. Together, we are building a more peaceful and prosperous society, one where the well-being of our youth becomes the cornerstone of our strength,” said Deyana Kostadinova.

Prof. Dr. Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, the Minister of Education, stressed the crucial need to bolster the crisis response system and ensure that adolescents and young people have universal access to mental health care services throughout the country.

“It's essential for both the system and society to acknowledge young people because undetected mental health issues can impact their community interactions and relationships. Strengthening intersectoral cooperation and coordinated efforts among relevant institutions is of immense importance for early recognition and timely response. We must collaborate to raise awareness about preserving mental health in the community. Conference participants unanimously agreed on the vital role of interdepartmental cooperation and efficient resource coordination for the mental health of children and young people,” emphasized Prof. Dr. Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, Minister of Education.

“The mental health and well-being of children and young people should be a top priority in public health, particularly in preventing mental disorders. In our country, the dominant approach to supporting young people with mental health issues still follows a medical model. However, globally, there is a growing emphasis on a 'step-by-step' approach, which provides services in various sectors and at different levels, focusing on psychosocial support. By signing this Memorandum, we can ensure support for our youth across all levels and systems where children and young people are present. By using a consistent narrative and key resources when working with young people, we can ensure they receive support that is accessible and effective. This work requires dedicated specialists, time, and the right conditions for providing psychosocial interventions, as advocated by the UNICEF, Orygen, and the Institute for Mental Health project. Investing in children and young people is an investment in the future of our society,” highlighted Prof. Dr. Milica Pejovic Milovancevic, Director of the Institute for Mental Health.

Prof. Dr. Fabio Scano, World Health Organization Representative in Serbia and Special Envoy of the Regional Director for the Western Balkans, pointed out the importance of innovative approaches to support the preservation of mental health and well-being of children and young people.

“Latest data show that life satisfaction and self-rated health declined between 2018 and 2022 among youth in European Region. I am proud to say that WHO in Serbia is already supporting MoH in strengthening mental health professionals in primary health centers and schools, to be able to develop and implement appropriate and sustainable public health responses to the needs of young people,” pointed out Prof. Dr. Fabio Scano, WHO Representative in Serbia.

As a result of the implementation of the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) programme in Serbia, young people have been given access to reliable information and professional support through the interactive online platform svejeok.rs, which has been visited by more than 90,000 people since 2021.

"We are glad to see here teachers, psychologists, health experts, social workers, youth workers. Because you are really an important link in our upbringing. It is important to us that we have the opportunity to have our voices heard - to be able to express our opinions, needs and fears, but also to present the needs of young people. Because together we can change the system,” believes Gabi Petkovic, from UNICEF's Youth Board.

The Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway, Kristin Melsom, pointed out the similarities between the problems of young people in Norway and Serbia when it comes to the mental health of young people. She said that Norway provides continuous support to the topic of mental health of young people in Serbia through cooperation with the Government of Serbia and UNICEF.

In order to involve professionals from different sectors in working with young people, UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, defined a minimum package of services for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for young people in Serbia.

Programme Results:

  • An expert group consisting of professionals from various sectors was established to address mental health protection, and a proposal to enhance the local-level service provision through a legislative framework revision was put forward.
  • UNICEF supported OPENS and a network of 15 non-governmental organizations and institutions in Novi Sad to provide ongoing support to young people in Vojvodina and throughout Serbia. This support included individual online and offline counselling, group sessions, chat sessions, and telephone sessions. A total of 5,948 young people were assisted through these services.
  • Since 2021, the svejeok.rs platform has offered young people a safe source of relevant information about mental health. This platform facilitated 350 individual sessions, 4,690 phone sessions, and 2,538 chat sessions.
  • In partnership with the Institute for Mental Health, 450 young people in Zrenjanin, Kragujevac, and Subotica received innovative psychosocial support counselling services within their schools, health centres, and social welfare institutions, delivered by 160 trained professionals. Additionally, telehealth services within the health sector were tested in Serbia.

Media contacts

Jadranka Milanovic
Communication Officer
UNICEF Serbia
Tel: + 381 11 3602 104
Tel: +381 63 336 283

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